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DRAGONSLAYER (1981)

 

Music composed and conducted by Alex North.

25 Tracks (Playing Time = 73:26)

Album produced for La-La Land by Dan Goldwasser. Performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Orchestrations by Henry Brant. Music recorded by Eric Tomlinson. Music edited by June Edgarton. Music recorded at Anvil Abbey Road, London, England. Digital restoration and mastering by Mike Matessino. CD Art Direction by Mark Banning.

La-La Land Records 1128

Rating: ****

Limited edition of 5000 copies

 

Alex North must have relished the opportunity to return to larger epic films with DRAGONSLAYER. After a disappointing rejection for the film 2001, the composer spent much of the 1970s focusing on smaller dramatic films, many which were less than commercially big successes. To get a sense at just how unique DRAGONSLAYER’s score is one can simply compare it to 1981’s other big blockbuster, and famous film score for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Both scores were nominated for an Oscar (losing out to CHARIOTS OF FIRE—the change in the wind already). But where Williams’ score takes a page out from his extension of the late-Romantic Korngold style, North’s music is an acerbic orchestral tour-de-force that features a host of unusual percussion ideas and such a command of full orchestral textural writing. It is so far from the mainstream Hollywood fantasy score favored for films since STAR WARS that it is no wonder people heard it as a classic approach by one of the industries masters. (You could almost hear two generations wondering how North’s score could lose to Vangelis while a younger generation wondered how RAIDERS could lose!)

How different is North’s music? Compare his light-hearted and brief “Forest Romp” with the later “Forest Battle” sequence from RETURN OF THE JEDI and you will get another glimmer of how unique this work truly is in the pantheon of fantasy music.

From the “Main Title,” North’s tendency for more brittle and dense orchestral textures feels like a much fuller extension of his music for SPARTACUS (1960). His angular thematic idea appears enough to give the score coherence, but the prominence of dissonance and tense textures is enough to run many chills down one’s spine. The score is relentless in its cerebral musical constructions eschewing more familiar gestures to constantly create unusual textures. But when things blossom out as in “Visions and Reflections/Hodge’s Death” to an almost Ravel-like waltz we get a glimpse of beauty. The tender musical moments of the score lay in amazing stark contrast to the growling low brass sounds that North draws from his orchestra. The more lyrical moments of the score are rare glimpses into anything resembling a steady meter with many segments seeming to continuously spin from their melodic starting points. A beautiful love for Galen and Valerian appears in “Still A Virgin” providing an all too brief relaxation of tension in the score. The couple of big romantic music segments have a semi-litugical quality to them with the one real first outright major chord showing up well in to “Dejection/Eclipse/Resurrection of Ulrich” that brilliantly shines forth from all that has gone before. The music then begins to move into an unsettling combination of skittering strings with harpsichord before the slow, dense textures return, but this is one of the CDs highlights.

DRAGONSLAYER is not a score many will grasp on a single hearing. There are multiple layers of melodic ideas for the characters with the dragon’s main theme overshadowing many of them. The contrapuntal writing throughout the score is simply impressive in its immense variety of textures that North employs. Ultimately, much of North’s more “traditional” melodic material appears to have been excised from the final film so having it available allows us to hear how some of the sequences might have played with the shorter less tense moments of score.

La-La Land has assembled most of the score here in its first ever presentation on CD. There are three bonus tracks making up around 7 minutes of the disc’s playing time with a little extra “surprise” that some will enjoy. There is one track of unused material and several that include material that was unused in the final film.

For a score that grabs a hold and will not let go of its intensity, DRAGONSLAYER turns out to be one of the finest and most unique scores of its time.

 

--reviewed by Steven A. Kennedy, 31 March 2010

Clips can be heard at the label’s website: http://www.lalalandrecords.com/Dragonslayer.html

Comments regarding this review can be sent to this address: stev4uth@hotmail.com

 


 

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